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are real beings of flesh and blood,” the we may trust tradition, drew its support critics tell us; “ they speak like men, not from the vigorous and masculine Attilike authors.” How truly this applies to cism of the old comedian. the persons mentioned in sacred writ! But human nature, in every stage of its Goethe has compared the characters of development and every variety of its opShakspeare to watches with crystalline eration, is as distinctly pronounced on the cases and plates, which, while they point pages of Scripture as in the scenes of the out with perfect accuracy the course of dramatist. Of Shakspeare it is said, “ He the hours and minutes, at the same time turned the globe round for his amus disclose the whole combination of springs ment, and surveyed the generations of and wheels whereby they are moved.” A men, and the individuals as they passed, similar transparency of motive and pur- with their different concerns, passions, folpose, of individual traits and spontaneous lies, vices, virtues, actions, and motives." action, belongs to the Bible. From the He has been called the “ thousand-mindhand of Shakspeare, “the lord and the ed,” the “ oceanic soul.” The Bible cretinker, the hero and the valet, come forth ates the world and peoples it, and gives equally distinct and clear.” In the Bible us a profound and universal insight into the various sorts of men are never con

all its concerns. founded, but have the advantage of be- Another peculiarity of Shakspeare is ing exhibited by Nature herself, and his self-forgetfulness. In reading what is are not a contrivance of the imagina- written, you do not think of him, but of tion. “Shylock,” observes a recent critic, his productions. “ The perfect absence

seems so much a man of Nature's mak- of himself from his own pages makes it ing, that we can scarce accord to Shak- difficult for us to conceive of a human speare the merit of creating him.” What being having written them.”

This rewill you say of Balak, Nabal, Jeroboam ?

mark applies with obvious force to the “ Macbeth is rather guilty of tempting the Bible. The authors of the several books Weird Sisters than of being tempted by do not thrust themselves upon your nothem, and is surprised and horrified at tice, or interfere with your meditations on his own hell-begotten conception.” Saul what they have written; indeed, to such is guilty of tampering with the Witch of an extent is this self-abeyance maintainEndor, and is alarmed at the Ghost of ed, that it is impossible, at this period of Samuel, whose words distinctly embody time, to determine who are the authors and vibrate the fears of his own heart, of some of the books. The narrative of and he “falls straightway all along on events proceeds, for the most part, as if the earth." “ The exquisite refinement the author had never existed. How of Viola triumphs over her masculine at- naïvely and perspicuously everything is tire.” The exquisite refinement of Ruth told, without the coloring of prejudice, or triumphs in the midst of men.

an infusion of egotism on the part of the We see there are points in which dra- writer! matic representation and Scriptural de- Coleridge says, Shakspeare gives us lineation mutually touch.

no moral highwaymen, no sentimental A distinguished divine of Connecticut thieves and rat-catchers, no interesting said he wanted but two books in his li- villains, no amiable adulteresses. The brary, the Bible and Shakspeare, the Bible even goes farther than this, and is one for religion, the other to be his in- faithful to the foibles and imperfections structor in human nature. In the same of its favorite characters, and describes spirit, St. Chrysostom kept a copy of Aris- a rebellious Moses, a perjured David, a tophanes under his pillow, that he might treacherous Peter. read it at night before he slept and in In nothing does Shakspeare so deepthe morning when he waked. The strong ly and divinely touch the heart of huand sprightly eloquence of this father, if manity as in the representation of wom

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THE

ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.

VOL. IV.-AUGUST, 1859.-NO. XXII.

THE DRAMATIC ELEMENT IN THE BIBLE.

for a

We say dramatic element in the Bible, drama is imitation,— the Bible narrative; not dramatic element of the Bible, since the one is an embodiment,- the other a that of which we speak is not essential, substance; the one transcribes the acbut incidental; it is an aspect of the form tual by the personal,—the other is a reof the book, not an attribute of its inspi- turn to the simplest originality; the one ration.

exalts its subjects by poetic freedom By the use of the term dramatic in the other adheres to prosaic plainness. this connection, let us, in the outset, be Yet are there not points in which they understood to have no reference what- meet, or in which, for the purposes of this ever to the theatre and stage-effect, or essay, they may be considered as comto the sundry devices whereby the play- ing together, that is, admitting of an house is made at once popular and in- artistical juxtaposition ? tolerable. Nor shall we anticipate any In the first place, to take Shakspeare charge of irreverence; since we claim ype of the drama, what, we ask, is the opportunity and indulge only the li- the distinguishing merit of this great writcense of the painter, who, in the treat- er? It is his fidelity to Nature. Is not ment of Scriptural themes, seeks both to the Bible also equally true to Nature ? embellish the sacred page and to honor “ It is the praise of Shakspeare,” says Dr. his art, - and of the sculptor, and the Johnson, " that his plays are the mirror poet, likewise, each of whom, ranging of life.” Was there ever a more consumdivine ground, remarks upon the objects mate mirror of life than the Bible affords ? there presented according to the law of Shakspeare copied the manners of the his profession. As the picturesque, the world then passing before him, and has statuesque, the poetical in the Bible are more allusions than other poets to the tralegitimate studies, so also the dramatic. ditions and superstitions of the vulgar."

But in the premises, is not the term The Bible, perhaps, excels all other books dramatic interdicted, - since it is that in this sort of description. Shakspeare which is not the Bible, but which is for- was an exact surveyor of the inanimate eign to the Bible, and even directly con- world.” The Bible is full of similar sketchtradistinguished therefrom? The drama An excellence of Shakspeare is the is representation, the Bible is fact; the individuality of his characters. “They VOL. IV.

9

es.

.

men,

9

66

are real beings of flesh and blood,” the we may trust tradition, drew its support critics tell us; "they speak like men, not from the vigorous and masculine Attilike authors.” How truly this applies to

cism of the old comedian. the persons mentioned in sacred writ! But human nature, in every stage of its Goethe has compared the characters of development and every variety of its opShakspeare to “watches with crystalline eration, is as distinctly pronounced on the cases and plates, which, while they point pages of Scripture as in the scenes of the out with perfect accuracy the course of dramatist. Of Shakspeare it is said, “ He the hours and minutes, at the same time turned the globe round for his amusedisclose the whole combination of springs ment, and surveyed the generations of and wheels whereby they are moved.” A and the individuals as they passed, similar transparency of motive and pur- with their different concerns, passions, folpose, of individual traits and spontaneous lies, vices, virtues, actions, and motives.” action, belongs to the Bible. From the He has been called the “ thousand-mindband of Shakspeare, “ the lord and the ed,” the oceanic soul.” The Bible cretinker, the hero and the valet, come forth ates the world and peoples it, and gives equally distinct and clear.” In the Bible us a profound and universal insight into the various sorts of men are never con

all its concerns. founded, but have the advantage of be- Another peculiarity of Shakspeare is ing exhibited by Nature herself, and his self-forgetfulness. In reading what is are not a contrivance of the imagina- written, you do not think of him, but of tion. “

Shylock,” observes a recent critic, his productions. “ The perfect absence seems so much a man of Nature's mak- of himself from his own pages makes it ing, that we can scarce accord to Shak- difficult for us to conceive of a human speare the merit of creating him.” What being having written them.”

This rewill you say of Balak, Nabal, Jeroboam ? mark applies with obvious force to the “ Macbeth is rather guilty of tempting the Bible. The authors of the several books Weird Sisters than of being tempted by

do not thrust themselves upon your nothem, and is surprised and horrified at tice, or interfere with your meditations on his own hell-begotten conception.” Saul what they have written; indeed, to such is guilty of tampering with the Witch of an extent is this self-abeyance maintainEndor, and is alarmed at the Ghost of ed, that it is impossible, at this period of Samuel, whose words distinctly embody time, to determine who are the authors and vibrate the fears of his own heart, of some of the books. The narrative of .and he “falls straightway all along on cvents proceeds, for the most part, as if the earth.” “ The exquisite refinement the author had never existed. How of Viola triumphs over her masculine at- naïvely and perspicuously everything is tire.” The exquisite refinement of Ruth told, without the coloring of prejudice, or triumphs in the midst of men.

an infusion of egotism on the part of the We see there are points in which dra- writer! matic representation and Scriptural de- Coleridge says, Shakspeare gives us lineation mutually touch.

no moral highwaymen, no sentimental A distinguished divine of Connecticut thieves and rat-catchers, no interesting said he wanted but two books in his li- villains, no amiable adulteresses. The brary, the Bible and Shakspeare,—the Bible even goes farther than this, and is one for religion, the other to be his in- faithful to the foibles and imperfections structor in human nature.

In the same

of its favorite characters, and describes spirit, St. Chrysostom kept a copy of Aris- a rebellious Moses, a perjured David, a tophanes under his pillow, that he might treacherous Peter. read it at night before he slept and in “In nothing does Shakspeare so deepthe morning when he waked. The strong ly and divinely touch the heart of huand sprightly eloquence of this father, if manity as in the representation of wom

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an." We have the grandeur of Portia, after a brief prologue, the curtain rises, the sprightliness of Rosalind, the passion and we, as spectators, look in upon a proof Juliet, the delicacy of Ophelia, the cess of interlocution. The scene is the mournful dignity of Hermione, the filial green, sunny garden of Eden, that to affection of Cordelia. How shall we de- which the memory of humanity reverts scribe the Pythian greatness of Miriam, as to its dim golden age, and which ever the cheerful hospitality of Sarah, the he- expresses the bright dream of our youth, roism of Rahab, the industry of Dorcas, ere the rigor of misfortune or the dulthe devotion of Mary? And we might

ness of experience has spoilt it. The set off Lady Macbeth with Jezebel, and dramatis personce are three individuals, Cleopatra with Delilah.

Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. There But the Bible, it may be said, so far as are the mysterious tree, with its wonderthe subject before us is concerned, is chief- ful fruit, — the beautiful, but inquisitive ly historical, while Shakspeare is purely woman, the thoughtful, but too complidramatic. The one is description,- the ant man, — and the insinuating reptile. other action; the one relates to events, — One speaks, the other rejoins, and the the other to feelings; the department of third fills up the chasm of interest. The the one is the general course of human plot thickens, the passions are displayed, affairs,— that of the other, the narrower and the tragedy bastens to its end. Then circle of individual experience; the field is heard the voice of the Lord God walkof the one is that which the eye of philos- ing in the cool (the wind) of the garden, ophy may embrace, — while that of the the impersonal presence of Jehovah is, as other is what the human frame may por- it were, felt in the passing breeze, and a tray.

shadow falls upon the earth,— but such a However this may apply to the aver

shadow as their own patient toil may disage of history, it will be found that the sipate, and beyond the confines of which Bible, in its historical parts, is not so their hope, which has now taken the place strictly historical as to preclude associ- of enjoyment, is permitted ever to look. ations of another sort. The Bible is Without delaying on the moral of this remarkable for a visual and embodied passage, what we would remark upon relief, a bold and vivid detail. We know is the clearness and freedom of the diaof no book, if we may except the compo- logue,- a feature which we find pervadsitions of professed dramatists, that con- ing the whole of the sacred writings. tains so much of personal feeling and In the account of Cain, which immediincident. In simplicity and directness, ately succeeds, the narrative is inelaboin freedom from exaggeration, and in the rate, casual, secondary; the dialogue is general unreserve of its expression, it simple and touching. The agony of the even exceeds the most of these. In it fratricide and his remorse are better exwe may discover a succession of little pressed by his own lips than could be dramas of Nature that will affect us done by any skill of the historian. quite as profoundly as those larger ones In the deception which Abrahain put of Art.

upon the Eyyptians, touching his wife, – If the structure of the drama be dialo- which it is no part of our present object gistic, we find the Bible formed on the to justify or to condemn, -- what a stroke same model. If the writers of the former of pathos, what a depth of conjugal sendisappear under the personages of their timent, is exhibited ! " Thou art a fair fancy, the writers of the latter disappear woman to look upon, and the Egyptians, under the personages of fact. As in the when they see thee, will kill me and one, so in the other, strangers are intro- save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou duced to tell their own story, each in his art my sister; that it

be well with me own way.

for thy sake, and my soul shall live beIn the commencement of the Bible, cause of thee.”

may

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